Simple Cranberry Tequila Sunrise Cocktail Recipe

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Showcasing a wonderful exhibit of layering in cocktails, the tequila sunrise is as beautiful to look at as it is refreshing and easy to drink. As you gaze over the modern version’s hues of red and orange it is easy to understand how it got its name. Today we’re taking a look at the modern classic, the simple cranberry Tequila Sunrise Cocktail recipe. We’re going to add our own flare to this by adding cranberry flavors into the drink, giving it a festive twist. 

What is a Tequila Sunrise Cocktail?

A tequila sunrise cocktail is a layered drink using tequila, with the overall effect of the layering to resemble a sunrise. The most common version today is made with tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. 

A top view of a tequila sunrise cocktail with a slice of orange in a glass placed on a brown surface

In our cranberry tequila sunrise we’re going to augment the bottom layer of grenadine with cranberry sauce to give more substance to the drink without making it quite so sweet. This cranberry tequila sunrise cocktail is perfect for the holidays and for people who prefer less sweet-tasting cocktails

What are the Origins of a Tequila Sunrise?

The original tequila sunrise was developed at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix by bar manager Gene Sulit in the 1930’s. The story goes that a patron requested a cocktail that he could enjoy next to the pool that would be cool, refreshing, and feature his favorite liquor – tequila. At this point, we should note the original tequila sunrise is actually quite different from the one we know today. 

The original Biltmore tequila sunrise that the patron received was made with creme de cassis, tequila, lime juice, soda, and garnished with a lime wedge. While not the most popular version today, this did setup the concept and signature characteristic of the drink which is layering.

When it comes to the modern incarnation of the tequila sunrise, the drink may never have gained popularity without the help of the biggest rock stars and everyone’s favorite bargain tequila brand. The version we drink today was reportedly invented in the 1970’s by Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice at The Trident in Sausalito, California.

A finished layered drink of a tequila sunrise cocktail

The drink flew into the spotlight when Rolling Stones front-man, Mick Jagger tried one at a private event and brought the drink with them on their tour dubbing it the “cocaine and tequila sunrise tour.” 

From there, Jose Cuervo jumped on the marketing opportunity to popularize the drink by printing recipes for the cocktail on their bottles. Almost as a one-two punch, the Eagles also included a new song, “Tequila Sunrise” on their mega album Desperado.  

How Do You Layer a Cocktail?

Layering a cocktail is based on a physical property called “specific density.” While sounding complex, it really just means heavier things will go to the bottom and lighter things will float to the top. 

In our specific case, ingredients that contain lots of sugar (because sugar is heavy) go to the bottom of the glass, while things that are more watery go to the top. Every time you need to stir a drink to mix the ingredients, it is because specific density is taking place.

For our drink, the cranberry sauce will be the heaviest ingredient (both because of the sugar and thickness of the sauce), so that will sit at the bottom of our glass.

Tools Required

Ingredients needed for a tequila sunrise cocktail

To make our Simple Cranberry Tequila Sunrise Cocktail Recipe all you need is a cup.

Some of you might be thinking, “Don’t you generally shake drinks that have citrus and ice?” Normally, you would be right! However, in order to get the layered effect that this drink is known for, we can’t shake it.

A top view of a tequila sunrise cocktail with a slice of orange in a glass placed on a brown surface

Cranberry Tequila Sunrise Cocktail

Yield: 1 Serving
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes


  • 1 tablespoon cranberry sauce
  • Handful of ice
  • 1.5 ounces Tequila
  • 3 ounces orange juice
  • ¼ ounces Grenadine
  • Garnish (optional): cherry, cranberry, strawberry, orange, or lime


  1. Start with a tall glass (highball / collins)
  2. Add cranberry sauce to bottom of glass. Be careful to not have the sauce touch the sides to keep a clean visual effect.
  3. Add ice to the glass about ⅓ of the way up 
  4. Add tequila
  5. Top off with orange juice
  6. Drizzle the grenadine down the side of the glass or on the back of a spoon and allow a few seconds for it to settle  
  7. Add Garnish (optional) 
  8. Drink responsibly and enjoy 
Beginner's Guide to Mixed Drinks and Cocktails

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.

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